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Driving, Greece, Travel

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

July 9, 2018

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

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Driving on the Greek Islands might be daunting for some, it certainly was the first time I drove on Santorini. I had been warned about the turns and traffic. I was prepared for the worst, but it wasn’t bad at all. This last year I rented a car on Ios and had a different experience, so here are my tips for driving on the Greek Islands with confidence and ease.

Renting a Car

Most of the time, I like to rent cars in advance. This is for two reasons, usually, the rate is better and I need an automatic transmission. On some islands, renting a car in advance might not be an option though. Ios is not listed on several car rental sites I checked. However, if the island has an airport, you will most likely be able to book in advance online.

When booking rental cars in Europe, I prefer to use AutoEurope, click here for rates. Picking up the car is pretty straightforward and is similar to picking up a rental in any country. If you have a driver’s license from outside the EU, you will need an international driver’s license to rent a car. Some companies will not ask you, but you and the company can receive a fine if you are pulled over. The rule on this is being more strictly enforced since the beginning of the 2018 season.

Driving

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Before I rented a car on Santorini, I had done some research on driving there. People warned the drive from the ferry to Oia could be scary. The drive was twisty and some the curves were next to cliffs, but the roads were well maintained and there were guard rails.

Ios was different. The island of Ios is not as popular as Santorini and many of the tourists do not drive. The roads were steep and many did not have guard rails. The rural roads were not well maintained. I am also deathly afraid of heights.

My tips are to do your research on the island you are going to. Find out about the geography of the island. Go on travel forums and ask about the road conditions.

Another tip for driving on a Greek island is to make sure you rent a car with enough horsepower. I had a two door smart car on Ios and it was barely enough for the steep Ios hills. This is also something to consider if you are going to rent an ATV instead of a car.

There are not many stop lights or stop signs on many of the islands, so proceed through intersections with caution. Greek drivers have been driving on these roads all their lives, so they tend to drive faster and what seems more erratically than you are. My advice is to drive in the right lane if possible and let them pass you.

You might see a Greek driver come up behind you and flash their lights. Basically, this means get out of my way. If you can’t, do so as quickly and safely as you can. As in many European companies, honking is common.

Parking

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

If you are renting a car, check that your hotel has parking. Finding a parking spot in small or crowded villages can be hard. The lots are often full, especially during the high season, from May to September.

Some parking lots are for use for patrons of a specific business, so check before you walk away. There should be a sign and they are usually in English and Greek. I only saw a few paid parking lots in Greece, so that isn’t as big an issue. It may even be worth paying so you can park in a real spot.

You will see some people get creative about making a parking spot. However, in a rental car, I would avoid this since your car will easily be spotted by the local police.

Purchasing Gas

Tips for Driving on the Greek Islands

Gas stations are few and far between on many islands or they are all in the main village. If you are going for a long drive, fill up before you head out and check to see if there are gas stations on your route.

Another thing to note is that most gas stations in Greece only take cash. They also will most likely pump the gas for you. If they do, I tip a euro or two to the attended.

Taking a Car on the Ferry

My tip is to not do this if at all possible. Driving on and off the ferry is done so quickly and many times you are expected to park your car in reverse once inside the ferry in a tight spot.

Renting a car on the islands is so easy and many car rental places have cars at the port, so you can pick up a car right there.

If you do decide to do it, you need to make sure you pay the fee for it when you book your tickets. There is also a place at the port to line up the cars for driving onto the ferry. Check with the port police when you arrive. They are wearing navy blue uniforms that look like military uniforms.

Driving in Greece doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared and know your limits. Enjoy the scenery and the places you can only reach by car. Have you driven in Greece? Give us your tips in the comments!

Europe, Portugal, Travel

Sintra Day Trip Tips

July 2, 2018

Going to Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon. When I was doing research to go to Sintra, people kept telling me I needed to go, but I had a hard time finding out how to get there and how to get around in Sintra. Everything turned out fine, but hopefully, I can make your day trip to Sintra better with these tips.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Getting To Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

Taking the train to Sintra is the best option. There isn’t much parking in Sintra and the train ticket was €4.50 return plus €0.50 for the card. My advice is to go to the train early as there was a long line to purchase tickets both from an agent and the ticket machine. I think I waited at least a half an hour.

The train station to leave from is the Rossio Station, which is in the center of Lisbon. You will take the train to the last stop, which is Sintra. Do not get off at Portela de Sintra. During the week, there are trains about every 20 minutes from Lisbon to Sintra.

What Time to Go to Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

Don’t make my mistake of going to Sintra in the afternoon thinking that you can see all the castles in that short period of time. My tip is to go in the morning, the earlier the better. Most of the castles open by 9:30 AM. Some of the castles had lines to purchase tickets as well.

During the summer, the attractions are open till about 6:00 or 7:00 pm. The trains run till late at night, so you have plenty of time to return. I would just make sure you return before it gets too dark as some of the neighborhoods the train runs through are a bit rough.

Getting Around Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Tips

All the castles and attractions in Sintra are spread far apart on a mountain. This makes walking to everything a challenge and physically daunting. The best thing is to take the bus. When you leave the train station, take a right and you will see a bus stop.

There are people selling tickets for the bus right there and the buses can take you to all the attractions. The trick is which bus to take first. You can take the 434 which takes you to the Castelo dos Mouros, Parque da Pena and Palacio Nacional da Pena. Keep in mind this is one direction bus and you cannot backtrack on the route unless you walk!

The other bus is the 435 and it takes you to the Quinta da Regaleira and the Palacio de Monserrate. It is also a one direction bus. You will have to go back to the train station to catch this bus and it is a separate ticket. You can buy a day pass for both buses for €15.

Food in Sintra

Most of the restaurants in Sintra are located in the village near the train station. Several of the castles had small cafes that served sandwiches and snacks. My tip is to bring a snack with you for lunch and make your way back to the village for a bigger meal before heading back to Lisbon. Because Sintra is a tourist attraction, the prices are inflated a bit so you will want to keep that in mind.

Sintra is definitely not to be missed with all the beautiful castles and the stunning views of the Portugal coastline it offers. Hopefully, my tips for a day trip to Sintra will help you have the best day there.

Do you have Sintra tips? Share with us in the comments.

Europe, Portugal, Travel

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

June 25, 2018

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

You could easily mistake the colorful buildings of Porto for just brightly painted buildings, but upon closer inspection, you realize they are covered in thousands of detailed tiles or azulejos. Azulejo is the name for the painted tin-glazed tiles you see in Portugal. Porto seemed practically covered in azulejos.

History

Azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj, which means polished stone. The earliest known azulejo tiles come from the 13th-century. You can see many of these in Seville and the Alhambra in Spain. The early tiles were one color and cut in distinctive shapes to create patterns. Many of these reflect the Arab love geometric patterns and colors.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

King Manuel I of Portugal saw the tiles in 1503 while on a visit to Seville and he brought back the idea to Portugal. You can see early examples of this in Sintra, Portugal at the National Palace.

In the second half of the 17th-century, the azulejos started to have a blue and white theme that was influenced by the Netherlands. These tiles were imported, but that all changed when imports of azulejos were banned. This led to the Portuguese making their own tiles.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Mass production began not long after and the azulejos became more and more popular. The 18th-century brought the large narrative panels you see on many churches and cathedrals today.

You can see the azulejos in many cities today in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. They are still used in decoration today. If you also make it to Lisbon, go visit the Museu Nacional do Azulejos. It houses the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in the world.

Where to Find Azulejos in Porto

Porto Sao Bento Train Station

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

The azulejo tile in the Port Sao Bento has made this train station famous. There are approximately 20,000 tiles covering the walls of the inside of the train station. The tiles are also located on the outside of the station.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Most of the tiles in the train station are scenes from Portuguese history. Above the scenes are displays of the history of transportation. You could stand in here for hours looking at all the details. I loved watching the light change the feeling of the tiles while standing in there.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Porto Cathedral

Overlooking Porto, the Porto Cathedral offers remarkable views of the city and the River Duoro. Outside the Cathedral, there are azulejos in the loggia.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

While the sanctuary is not decorated with azulejos, you can pay the €3 fee to the cloister to see an amazing azulejo mosaic. It depicts the life of the Virgin Mary and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The entrance to the cloister is to the right of the entrance. I could not find the number of tiles for the cathedral, but it must rival the train station.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Cais da Ribeira

The Ribeira neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cais da Ribeira is the waterfront portion along the River Duoro. Here is where you can see many homes decorated with azulejos. Each house is so colorful and this is where I realized they were tiles not paint.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

If you walk up to the second level, past the restaurants and shops on the first level, you can get up close to the buildings to see the tiles. Most of these homes are still occupied by the people of Porto and you will see their laundry hanging in front of the tiles and windows. It makes for a colorful photo.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

If you want to wake up to this every day you can by staying in the Invicta Ribeira Boat Hotel, check here for rates, I stayed here and enjoyed being in the cultural heart of Porto. It sits in the River Duoro right across from the Cais da Ribeira. Plus who doesn’t want to sleep on a riverboat!

Igreja da Misericordia

This church is a hidden gem of azulejos in Porto. The church is only accessible outside mass hours through the museum next door, Museu da Misericordia do Porto. The entrance fee is €5, which gives you access to the museum and the church.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

The church was built in 1584. The original azulejo tiles were installed in 1628. Few of these survive today and many were replaced in 1866. There are reports that the ones in the stairwell leading to the tribune and sacristy are originals. The current tiles are in the blue and white tradition.

There was no one in the church when I visited. It was very peaceful to be in a beautiful church all alone. There were very few limits on where I could go inside and think that is because it is still a working church. The museum is worth a visit as it covers the charitable history of the organization and has some amazing pieces of art on exhibit.

Rua das Flores

The Igreja da Misericordia is located on this street so if you visit the church, you won’t miss the tiles on this street. Almost every building on this long street is covered in azulejos. The name of the street comes from the gardens that used to be here when the street was opened between 1521 and 1525.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

Preservation and Protection

The azulejo tiles have been known to be vandalized or be stolen. In an effort to prevent this in 2013 it was forbidden to destroy any building that had an exterior covered in azulejos in Lisbon. In 2017, the law extended to the whole country and included the interior of buildings.

Azulejos, Tiles of Porto

While it will not be hard to find azulejos in Porto, you will have a hard time not stopping to take pictures of every single one. Would you like to see more and learn about azulejos? I recommend these books on azulejos.

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Europe, Greece, Hotel/Accommodation, Travel

Kritikakis Village Hotel Ios, Greece

October 23, 2017
Kritikakis Village Hotel

When deciding where I was going to “live” for a month on the Greek island of Ios, I knew I wanted to be able to cook while I was there. This meant I needed to find a place with a kitchen and I was hoping for a place that had a monthly rate as well. I did lots of research trying to find the right place including Airbnbs and looking at smaller hotels. The Airbnbs were further away from my preferred location and some only had a shared kitchen. Finally, I found the amazing Kritikakis Village Hotel. Not only did each room have a small kitchen, I was able to ask for a monthly rate and they had two pools!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Hotel

The hotel is set up like a small Greek Village and has all the lovely characteristics of that including whitewashed walls and blue doors. There are less than 50 rooms and it feels like even less. The reception area is located outside the village right on the road from the port. You can walk from the ferry to Kritikakis Village Hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The two pools are located on two different levels. One has the pool bar and the other has built-in sunbeds and is smaller. The smaller pool is also more shallow. The pool offers great views of Yialos beach. Breakfast is served a few levels up with a small cold breakfast and offers traditional Greek yogurt and delicious local honey.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Rooms

There are many room options to choose from at Kritikakis Village Hotel. You can choose from a studio with many single beds or a double. You can also choose an apartment style room that has a separate living area. The great thing about these rooms is that it allows for groups of friends to split the cost of a room and each have their own bed. The apartments are great for couples or people with small children.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chose an apartment since I really didn’t want to look at the kitchen for a month! When I contacted them about a monthly rate, they offered me a double bed apartment at a discounted rate. This was something you definitely had to contact them about and it may not be available during the high season. It was more than I wanted to spend, but I was very happy that I chose to do this instead of the studio.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The benefits of staying in a hotel for a month was that I had daily maid service if I wanted. This meant no washing sheets and towels or mopping floors, which is definitely a plus while on vacation. It also meant I had help planning things or calling restaurants for reservations.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

Kritikakis Village Hotel

My apartment had a large terrace with a table and chairs and umbrella. Many mornings were spent here having my breakfast. The hotel also faces the west so you can catch a view of the amazing sunset on Ios. You are also close to the port and I could hear the ferries come and go, which I enjoyed. I preferred this location versus the village or the party beach of Myloplotas. I was close to the port, a grocery store, Yialos beach and many great restaurants. The bus stops right outside of reception and it takes you to the village or Mylopotas beach. You can also walk the path to the village if your legs are up for it. The path is also right next to Kritikakis Village Hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Staff

By far the best thing about this hotel was the friendly hotel staff! They made my stay very memorable. Many times I would come back to my room to discover fruit or chocolates. One day I had a knock on the door only to be presented with a plate of fruit and loukoumades, Greek donuts!

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chatted with the staff almost every day and made good friends with them. One night they even asked me to have dinner with them. It definitely made my time in Ios less lonely and I would have missed out on some great restaurants without their help. When I checked out they gave me a Kritikakis Village Hotel t-shirt! Which I have worn in Portugal a few times.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Location

As I mentioned before, Kritikakis Village Hotel is located not far from the port in Ios, Greece. There is also the bus stop right outside the reception door. The bus takes you directly to the Chora(village) and then onto one of the best beaches. In the port area is many restaurants, a grocery store and a bakery. Kritikakis is located in the best spot in Ios, Greece!

So if you are planning a trip to Ios, Greece, I highly recommend staying at the Kritikakis Village Hotel, check rates here. You will feel at home right away and be close to all that Ios, Greece has to offer!